The Problem of Idleness


In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 Paul discusses the problem of idleness in the church. Let’s look at what he says.

6 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us.
7 For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you.
8 We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you.
9 We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow.
10 Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”
11 Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business.
12 We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.
13 As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.
14 Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed.
15 Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister.

In this passage Paul provides several incentives for people to go to work.

In verse 6 Paul states the first incentive is to AVOID BEING OSTRACIZED.

Paul tells believers (in the name of the Lord Jesus) to stay away from people who refuse to work. This is not a suggestion – it’s an order.

Matthew 18 provides steps for implementing church discipline in cases where there is disobedience to God’s commands. The first step is to confront the sinning believer privately. If that doesn’t work, step two is to confront the sinning believer with two or three witnesses. If that doesn’t work — step three is to bring the offense to the congregation and ask the sinning believer to repent. If that doesn’t work step four is to remove the sinning believer from fellowship in the church altogether.

It appears that Paul is at step four in this process, which means that the first three steps had already been taken.
He is now going to step 4 which is to ostracize the sinning believer. So, Paul’s message to believers who refuse to work is — “Rather than being kicked out of the church – go to work!”

In verses 7-9 Paul gives a second incentive to work, which is to FOLLOW HIS EXAMPLE.

Paul says, “You ought to imitate us”. He backs up his statement by saying, “we were not idle when we were with you”. He said he and his team worked hard to pay for their food. They did not rely on the Thessalonians, even though they had the right to do so. He’s telling the Thessalonians that he is the model, and they must follow it.

In verse 10 Paul provides a third incentive for working – he says IT PROVIDES RESOURCES TO PAY FOR NECESSITIES.

Paul says “those unwilling to work will not get to eat”.

Notice Paul addresses those who are “UNWILLING to work”. He is not talking to those who are unable to work, because they are infirmed or are otherwise unable to work. Actually, the church has a responsibility to help these individuals.

In verses 11-13 Paul points out a fourth incentive for working — IT HELPS AVOID THE PROBLEM OF MEDDLING.

In this passage Paul is using a play on words. He says they were not BUSY (meaning they didn’t work) – instead they were BUSY BODIES (meaning they were meddlers). These people used their unoccupied time to interfere in the lives of others. They became irritants – causing disunity and discord – and that affected harmony in the church. Paul’s solution was for them to settle down and earn their own living. Settling down simply means – “live an ordered life”. It means stop causing unrest and dissention. It means focusing on one’s own affairs and not the affairs of others.

Finally, in verses 14-15 Paul provides the ultimate reason for not associating with an idle believer.

He says, “so they will be ashamed”. The reason was to make them feel shame, so they would be motivated to go to work. Paul was interested in correcting the problem. His ultimate goal was restoration.

These four incentives still apply to us today. From time to time we will encounter individuals who are “unwilling to work”. We must deal with them. Paul provides the biblical solutions to do that. It’s incumbent upon us to follow them …

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